Magic Mushroom Monopolies Threaten The Benefits of Psychedelics: The Chicken Who Laid Golden Eggs

Marc Chagall

Psilocybin has just gotten “breakthrough” status with the FDA. Meaning that magic mushrooms are one step closer to being available to treat a range of mental health conditions, starting with end-of-life existential dread and more general depression.

I almost want to get clinically depressed, so I can be eligible for the drug trials.

Michael Pollan’s book, How To Change Your Mind, changed my mind. As did a recent panel at the World Science Festival on developing psychedelic research.

I believe the science that suggests that psychedelics have the potential to alleviate a great deal of suffering in the world. I believe they also create the possibility of a much-needed shake-up in our current norms of behavior and our priorities for the good of humanity, by enabling new ways of thinking and being. I’ve written before about my belief in the positive potential of psychedelics.

But (!) there’s a danger that the very substances, which might free us from the root sources of—our depression, our increasing isolation, our environmental recklessness and our inability to see the vital connection between ourselves and all other living things—will be over exploited for their commercial value. So, we will destroy the benefits and end up more alienated from one another and our natural environment.

Here’s one of Jean de La Fontaine’s pithy fables to help us frame our thinking:

 Avarice loses everything in wanting to gain everything. As evidence I need only point to the man who owned a chicken, so the fable goes, which laid a golden egg each day.

 He thought there must be treasure inside the chicken’s stomach. He killed her. Opened her up. And found she was identical to all his chickens who brought him nothing.

 He had stripped his own self of his greatest earner. There’s a pretty lesson for those who are mean with money.

 In recent times, how many have we seen who have become poor overnight, for wanting to get rich too quick.

The numbers of those convinced that psychedelics have an enormous upside potential is growing as the evidence mounts. So much potential is bound to be commercially exploited. But when research is driven by cost-benefit and profit motives, we risk killing the chicken, in search of the golden egg.

Already, problems are surfacing with enterprises like Compass Pathways, which seems bent on monopolizing the magic mushroom market.Other investors are taking financial positions in the psilocybin and ketamine market(note: Ketamine is not a psychedelic, so may not have the same impact).

These are not companies planning to create organic mushroom farms. These enterprises plan on synthesizing the natural product. As we know from the food industry, synthetic, processed, simulacrums of organic material are not always successful. It turns out nature’s design, in all its complexity, with features that appear extraneous at first, is often physiologically more compatible for human flourishing. In addition, companies will be incentivized to move quickly, to claim their portion of the market. Their haste risks degrading the quality of the resulting product.

Then there’s the problem of patents. Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) deploys its patents like weapons against farmers around the world. That giant commercial enterprise locks down seeds with terminator genes and uses its clout to crush small competitors who have the bad luck to farm downwind and accidentally end up with Monsanto seed in their soil. While Monsanto claims to “feed the world and protect the planet,” what it does is feed its executives and pollute the world with pesticides designed to kill everything except their specially engineered crops. Monsanto has the capacity to feed the world and chooses not to.

When the noble social goal of a product takes backseat to the financial goals of the wellness industry, we know an enterprise no longer has our best interests at heart. Ayelet Waldman (author of A Really Good Day, about her experience microdosing) calls this the “goopification” of psychedelics, referring to Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP empire. Yet, psilocybin research driven by a desire to make a difference in the increasingly widespread suffering due to depression is as important an ambition as any. We live in an era of global malaise and anxiety. The necessity of re-ordering our consciousness and way of being in the world is as pressing as it has ever been.

What we need is fair access to the scientifically proven benefits of psilocybin, administered in a responsible manner, in appropriate settings, to create the conditions for the radical change we know is needed. Yet if we sacrifice that worthy ambition on the altar of commerce, there will be no golden eggs, only dead poultry.

Which is more important, greater universal connectedness or more money? Let’s choose wisely.


Another fable considers psychedelics: It Is High Time for More Freedom and Love: The Shoemaker and The Financier

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